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Horsing Around in Kyrgyzstan

7th September 2016


The World Nomad Games are currently taking place in Kyrgyzstan. Michael Pullman recently returned from our Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan tour and witnessed first-hand some of the amazing horsemanship of the region.

The yurt camp Wild Frontiers uses in Son Kul has a beautiful setting on the shores of the lake. Here you are right amongst the semi-nomadic locals, who you will see herding goats and riding horses against a backdrop of mountains and huge skies. On our second day at Son Kul some horse games were arranged near the camp. Local nomads appeared on horseback and proceeded to show us some of the sports currently taking place at the World Nomad Games.

Tyiyn Enmei - Note pickup

First up was note pickup – where riders have to pick up a 500 Som note from the ground whilst galloping. Their ability to climb out of the saddle and reach right down to the ground at full speed was astounding. Tthe successful riders quite rightly got to keep the notes they picked up.

Kyz Kuumai - Chase the bride

Next was chase the bride, which forms part of an ancient wedding ritual. The bride is given the fastest horse and a headstart, whilst the groom must set out in pursuit and reach and kiss the bride before a set finishing point. If the groom fails to catch the bride, the race is rerun, this time the bride chasing after the groom and attempting to strike him with her whip. In our demonstration, the groom happily caught up with the bride, sealing their engagement, which we were assured was for real. Certainly there was a lively party afterwards to celebrate, involving much vodka and singing. This game actually relates to the local culture of bride stealing. Traditionally, young Kyrgyz men would kidnap the lady of their desires, holding them for a week and encouraging the family of the bride to accept the marriage proposal. Today this is less common but it is still represented in the traditional horse game of chase the bride.

Horse wrestling

Two game competitors rode up and shook hands and we were straight into horse wrestling. This is an event in the current World Nomad Games, and the idea is to throw your opponent of his horse whilst grappling with each other at close quarters. Our bout lasted about two minutes, as each rider struggled to get a decent grip of their opponent, and lever them out of their saddle. Finally one achieved this and steered his horse away leaving his opponent sliding to the floor.

Kok Buru

This is the most popular and widely known of Central Asia’s horse games. Called Buzkashi in Afghanistan, it is basically polo played with a goat’s carcass. Goat is probably used as its tough skin lasts the game, and the animal’s long hair makes it easy to pick-up from the floor. Two teams of ten take part, although only four of each team are allowed on the field at any one time, allowing for players and/or horses to be substituted. There is a goal (kazan) at either end of the pitch, usually consisting of an old tyre. Points are scored by dropping the goat’s carcass in the opponents’ goal. Popular throughout Central Asia, this is Afghanistan’s national sport, although the Taliban banned it for a time. It’s a great spectator sport – with horses and men colliding at furious speed as they attempt to wrestle the goat from each other. We saw the whole ritual, including the slaughtering of the goat pre-match, right up to the winning team being presented the goat, which was skinned and cooked that evening.

Kyrgyzstan is the most beautiful country I have visited, and for lovers of mountain scenery and the great outdoors, it can’t be beaten. View our Kyrgyzstan holidays.


Michael Pullman

Michael became interested in travel at a young age, when his father would come home with souvenirs and tales from work trips to exotic sounding destin…

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